10 Tips for Taking Your Own Family Photos with Emily Miller

10 Tips for Taking Your Own Family Photos with Emily Miller

Hi friends! My name is Emily Miller and I am the Creative Director for Jennie Allen Ministries and the Theolaby team.

When I was 16 years old I started my first photography business and since then I have spent over half my life behind the lens of a camera. I can tell you from experience that every photoshoot I’ve done has had its own unique challenges. Family dynamics, season of life, even the time of day… All of these nuances are factors in the final result, for better or for worse. 

Getting that perfect shot with everyone looking at the camera (much less with their eyes open and smiling) can feel overwhelming. Now that I am a mom of two boys, I can tell you that I understand this stress more now than I ever have before. 

As we approach Easter, I wanted to share some of my go-to tips and tricks for taking your own family photos. I pray that as you consider these things you will be encouraged to simply go for it. Time is fleeting and your children are getting older, friends. Do your future self a favor and try your best to capture where you and your family are at in life right now. It will be a treasure in years to come - I promise.


1- Natural Light is Your Best Friend

Choosing the room with the most windows in your house will automatically give your photos a lift. Have a generally “dark” home with not a lot of natural light? Consider stepping outside in the shade of the front porch or back patio to get better lighting. The better the lighting, the less editing you’ll feel like you need to do.

2 - Use The “Portrait Mode” and Self Timer On Your Phone Camera

Let’s be real - iPhones have come a long way since their debut in 2007. This rectangular brick in your pocket has a better camera now than most point and shoot cameras on the market - and it’s time to harness that power to get the best family photo possible. Simply change the lens so you can see yourself on the screen, slide the option over from camera to portrait, and set the timer by following the steps below.

3 - The More The Merrier

Whenever I do a photoshoot with a family, I generally walk away with about 10x more photos than I actually give to the family. Why? Because the more eyes you have in the photo, the more opportunities you have for someone to blink at the wrong moment. The key is to keep it casual and keep it quick (more on that below).
If you are using the self-timer on an iPhone, it will automatically give you a burst of photos to choose from (I would try to get a few different options of self timed photos). If you are getting a friend or neighbor to take your photo for you, make sure to tell them to take about a dozen so you have more to choose from in the end.

4 - Everybody Squeeze In!

This rule applies if you have more than 3 people (kids included) in your self-timed portrait. The only way you will fit everyone in is huddling close. While photographing any family, you will hear me say at least once “Act like you love each other!”. This is in context to standing close to one another. Squeeze in and clump together - get your faces close to each other and put the shorties in the front. If you have younger kids, don’t be afraid to kneel beside them or hold them in your arms so there is not a huge height difference. 

5 - Download the Adobe Lightroom App

Lightroom is a free app that you can download to your iPhone. This program comes with amazing presets that can take your editing to the next level. Want to create your own preset? You can tweak your photo exactly how you like it and then save your settings to a presets menu to use on future photos so everything looks consistent. You can find my favorite way to get light and bright photos by using these settings:

Light Tab: Exposure: +.20, Contrast: +30, Highlights: -60, Shadows: +80, Whites: +30, Blacks: +70

6 - Don’t Be Afraid of Poop

Is there a word that once uttered brings genuine belly laughs in your home? For our oldest son, Abram,  it’s the word “poop”. Anytime, anywhere - we have a 98% chance of smiles whenever it’s said out loud. It’s time to whip out your kids’ favorite funny words and lighten the mood. Get silly and laugh together - it makes for the best photos. Also, if possible, try not to discipline your kid right before photo time. Getting your kid to calm down after getting in trouble will only make for more work and time on your end.

7 - The Quicker, The Better

Speaking of time - here’s a friendly reminder of what we as parents already know all too well: your child’s attention span is microscopic. Do yourself a favor and set everything up first. Get the right setting on your phone, clear out the area, and consider your child’s presence the very last piece of the puzzle to add in. This prioritization will mean that the attention your kid is willing to give is actually spent on the photo being taken instead of the time getting ready.

8 - DIY a Tripod

If you have a window sill, you have a tripod.
If you have a stack of books, you have a tripod.
If you have a pot in your kitchen, you have a tripod.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and use what you have. No need to purchase something that you’ll only use a couple of times a year at most. If you are really wanting an actual camera mount, consider asking a friend or family member if they have one hiding out in their closet that you can borrow.

9 - Time of Day Matters

Sometimes math can be fun, so just think of it this way:

Number of children you have x the amount of time you take = that many opportunistic moments for meltdowns.

While natural light is SO important, only you know what time of day is best for your child’s mood. Is your child best behaved in the morning shortly after waking up? Snap that photo before heading out the door to go to church. Are they more of a mid-day-after-lunch, or even after naptime type of kid? Plan accordingly for best results.

10 - Lastly But, Certainly Most Importantly: Wrangling in Your Expectations

I’ve had to work on this personally because the standards I have for myself are so high. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see past the fog of perfectionism and remember how much grace God has given to me that I even have this awesome (and sometimes chaotic) family in the first place. No matter if you are wrestling toddlers like me, or you are figuring out the puzzle of parenting through the teenage years - every season with your kids deserves to be photographed. Your seven year old refuses to smile? Your five year old insists on wearing a spiderman shirt? Your two year old won’t sit still? Your 12 year old is way too cool for this? Take the photo. You’ll be thankful to have these memories later.

If you are looking for more free resources like this one, sign up for our free resource library where you can find tools to disciple your kids in the everyday.

Happy Easter to you and your family from our little team here at Theolaby.

Cheering you on!